Commentary by Rance Crain

WHEN THE LIGHTS WENT OUT AT CRAIN COMMUNICATIONS

Staffers From New York to Detroit Scramble Through Disaster to Get Out the News

By Published on .

While David Klein, publishing and editorial director of this family publication, watched TV Aug. 14, the
Rance Crain, editor in chief, 'Advertising Age'

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first day of the blackout, it showed the outage extending first to New York City and then Detroit, Cleveland and Akron. "What kind of madman would target Crain Communications?" David asked himself -- only half jokingly.

Especially tested
We have publications in each of those cities and it did seem during the power outage ordeal that we were being especially tested. As it turned out, Group Vice President Bob Adams told me, we went to press on time with our city business papers in Detroit (where we have backup generators), Cleveland (where power was restored sooner), at our tire and plastics-industry publications in Akron and at Automotive News (also in Detroit).

Only our newspapers in New York -- Advertising Age, Crain's New York Business, Investment News and Business Insurance -- held up publication until Monday. In part, this let us cover the developments affecting our readers more completely. Besides, our editors couldn't maintain contact with our reporters (batteries on cell phones had run down). Crain's New York Business editor Greg David and a half-dozen of staffers spent Thursday night at the office. (Greg slept quite soundly on Ad Age publisher Jill Manee's couch.)

Contingency plan contingencies
Our backup plan, formulated after 9/11, was that reporters could work from home. But with phones and computers down, our contingency plan needed a contingency plan. Actually, we had one: We arranged for our New York reporters to plug in their computers

Photo: AP
As night fell on Thursday, the canyons of Manhattan were dark except for the headlights on the gridlocked streets.
at an insurance company across the river in New Jersey. But they had no way of getting there, so Greg was forced to delay printing until Saturday or Monday. Since it would have been hard to reach sources on Saturday, he opted for Monday. Crain's ended up with six or seven stories on the blackout.

Our two New York reporters on Television Week had an adventure filing their stories. National editor Michele Greppi told me they tried to check into a hotel, but the hotel couldn't take our company credit card because its computers were down. In desperation, Michele called a TV operation in a neighborhood that had gotten power back. Our reporters wrote stories in longhand and dictated them to our L.A. editors. They filed six stories Friday -- and the paper got out on time.

Web site publishing
Even if we couldn't close Ad Age on time, our online editor, Hoag Levins, was able to post stories on its Web site from his home. On Friday, editor Scott Donaton sneaked into our building on Third Ave. (we had earlier been ordered to evacuate) with our information technology guys, repeating "I.T., I.T." to the building security staff almost as if he didn't speak English.

Photo: Hoag Levins
The front lobby of Crain Communications in New York after the lights went back on.

Though no one else was allowed into the building, Scott says quite a few of the New York Ad Age staff piled up outside after riding bicycles or walking to get there.

Outside New York, Scott says, reporters and editors (led largely by Rick Gordon and Kate MacArthur) scrambled to help out however they could, checking on staffers, editing copy and reporting on the impact of the blackout.

David Klein thinks that one lesson that came out of the blackout is that "the older your technology, the better off you are." If that's true, I'm suddenly a cutting-edge guy. I'm writing this column on a yellow pad. "You're blackout-proof," David told me.

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